Since 1997, smoke alarms have been compulsory in all new buildings in Western Australia. Considering how many lives they must save every year, they’re a remarkably cheap and easy safety feature, however, one mustn’t be complacent when it comes to ensuring they conform to building codes.

Many buildings that were built before 1997 will have had them installed at some point either before they became mandatory, or if the building has since changed ownership or gone through lease agreements. But, many buildings that haven’t changed owners or tenants still don’t have appropriate smoke detection systems.

What is the current legislation?

From 1 July 1997 the installation of mains powered smoke alarms became mandatory for all new buildings (or building extensions) within Western Australia.

Since 1 October 2009 mains powered smoke alarms must also be fitted in all existing buildings prior to the transfer of ownership, rent or hire.

Smoke alarms must:

  • Be positioned according to the requirements of the Building Code of Australia
  • Comply with Australian Standards Mark AS 3786 (from 1 May 2017 all newly installed smoke alarms must comply with Australian Standards Mark AS 3786:2014)
  • Be permanently connected to consumer mains power where it is supplied to the building
  • Be interconnected, if the building was newly built after 1 May 2015

Types of Smoke Alarms

The two types of smoke alarms used in Western Australia use either photoelectric or ionisation smoke sensors. The difference is in the smoke sensing technology used, which affects how the device reacts to a fire.

Photoelectric alarms

This technology works by detecting large particles in the air. In modern buildings, furnishings contain a significant amount of synthetic materials that smoulder and give off large, visible smoke particles when they burn.

Photoelectric technology is more sensitive to the large smoke particles produced by smouldering fires. This means a fire can be detected sooner, and is why they are the recommended type of smoke detector for new buildings.

Ionisation alarms

These work by detecting large amounts of very small particles in the air. The amount of small particles required to set off an ionisation smoke alarm is generally only produced by flaming fires or from very hot surfaces.

This means the smoke from smouldering fires, which give off lower amounts of large particles, will take longer to be detected.

Ionisation smoke alarms are also more prone to nuisance alarms from cooking and should therefore not be installed near kitchens.

You should always consult with a commercial electrician before installing smoke detectors as they know the legislation and therefore the exact requirements for how many detectors must be installed in your building and in which locations. This will also ensure that you’re not liable for failing to follow the code if there does happen to be a fire that causes damage, or worse.

Why Does My Building Need Smoke Detectors?

There’s one obvious answer—to ensure the safety of the building’s occupants in the event of a fire. But there’s more to it than that.

Firstly, as previously mentioned, it’s in your best interest to make sure that you comply with building codes to avoid being liable in the event of a fire that causes damage, injury or even death. Penalties are severe for building owners if inadequate smoke detectors have failed to alert occupants to a fire.

Secondly, a good smoke detection system can prevent a fire from escalating and becoming catastrophic. A commercial building will also be properly equipped with fire extinguishers and blankets, so with proper detection, a small fire can be put out well before it gets out of control. This can potentially save you the heartache of watching your business and livelihood go up in flames when you could easily have avoided it.

Most importantly, the preservation of life. In a fire situation, seconds can be crucial, so a professionally installed detection system is the most important link in the chain when it comes to getting your employees, your customers and yourself out of a life threatening situation. Cutting corners to save a few dollars is simply not worth the risk.

How Can I Avoid a Fire in the First Place?

There are loads of precautions that can be taken to make a workplace as safe from fire as possible. Making sure your electrical systems and devices are all tested and tagged is a good start. And designing the layout of the building with fire safety in mind will help to make sure any fire hazard is isolated so that it can be contained in such an event.

In offices, one aspect that can easily be overlooked is the server room. These are rooms that house a business’s computer processing equipment. This equipment gets extremely hot, so it’s important to ask yourself what temperature should a server room be to make sure it doesn’t overheat and become a fire hazard. Most server rooms are kept at about 20 degrees Celsius, but depending on your requirements, this may vary. It’s best to speak to an expert on what temperature is best suited to your operations and how to best achieve it.

It’s a good idea to regularly check that your smoke detection system is up to code, and to make sure any potential fire hazards are properly dealt with. Making sure all your fire detection and prevention systems are in place and are compliant with requirements is the best thing you can do to keep your business running, your staff and customers safe, and to ensure your own peace of mind.

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